Leah Wareham’s work, Saggar Maker’s Bottom Knocker is a celebration and documentation of the world-renowned heartland of the British pottery industry, Stoke-on-Trent. Although the area saw a steep industrial decline in the 1970s the industry has by no means disappeared. Wareham’s photographs depict the skill and pride of the talented individuals who keep this traditional industry alive, while reflecting on the new potters drawn to Stoke because of its prestigious history.
Stoke-on-Trent, also known as ‘The Potteries’, is located in the West Midlands of the UK, and is famous for its pottery industry. Dating back to the 17th century the industry grew due to the abundance of local resources for pottery production and famous ‘potters’ such as Josiah Wedgewood revolutionising the industry. Production was thriving in the 19th Century with thousands of bottle ovens populating the city’s landscape.
The title of this project, Saggar Maker’s Bottom Knocker, harks back to a time when the industry was booming and black smoke billowed out over the entire city from bottle ovens, which although now redundant due to the clean air act of 1956, still remain a part of the landscape of the city of Stoke-on-Trent and its proud heritage.
A Saggar Maker’s Bottom Knocker was a job role within the industry when the bottle kilns were still in use. They would make the base of the Saggar (a fireclay box made to hold ware during firing) by flattening a lump of fireclay into a metal ring with a wooden mallet. These Saggars would then be stacked into the bottle kilns ready for firing.
However, the industry has changed drastically since the decline hit in the 70’s due to post-industrialisation and increased outsourcing. Although not as prosperous as it used to be, the industry has not disappeared completely. Thanks to regeneration in the area, many factories being saved from closure and a continuing passion from the local people, Stoke-on-Trent still remains the centre of the pottery industry in Britain today. Many famous names within the industry such as Royal Stafford, Middleport and Moorcroft still operate in the city today, as well as new pottery businesses and makers setting up in the area due to its great history and prestige.